TOYHEM: If you dig action figures, this is probably where you got your start…

Welcome to TOYHEM! For the fourth straight holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan


After Dan accepted my pitch and I started digging in deep on my research for this article, something began to occur to me. I looked at all the colorful images from the past, at the figures and vehicles and playsets, at the exclusives and variants and overseas editions and it really hit me:

Fisher-Price Play Family is the gateway drug to action figures.

This stuff was a huge part of so many people’s childhoods, and especially mine. Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, you’d be hard pressed not to find a living room or den or kid’s bedroom that didn’t have the beloved Fisher-Price universe of toys underfoot. It was ubiquitous. For me, I can see how the Play Family sparked my interest in more sophisticated action figures at every level. As I got a little bit older, I needed the “harder” stuff, but in all honesty never forgot the F-P offerings. Look over these images and tell me it doesn’t stir something in you, too.

Especially the dog. Amirite? “Iconic” doesn’t even scratch the surface of it.

So, consider this an ode to the toys we had before Mego, before GI Joe and Barbie, before we frittered away all our life savings on Hot Toys figures and convention exclusive Funko Pops. Look upon this as a little tour of the ’60s and ’70s playthings that set us on those paths.

A portrait of the author as a young Fisher-Price fan

Not ranked, by the way, because c’mon… how could I?

(Although that dog would come first, of course.)

Play Family Family. Here they are in all their minimalist glory. I suspect I had the transition edition with wood bodies and plastic heads, but I’m not sure. Also, what’s up with “Butch,” the frowning bad-boy kid? Regardless, the dog is there, and all is good in the family.

Play Family School Bus. I can still remember exactly how the side doors opened on the bus. And I see everybody gets a name here — the dog is “Fido.” They were still making this set up through 1990.

Play Family House. Everybody had this one, right? It was like a law or something back in the ’70s, that everybody had to own this and John Denver’s Greatest Hits. You can still hear the sound of the doorbell, can’t you? They also sold accessory packs with furniture and stuff for the various rooms and the patio.

Play Family Fun Jet. Chunky and maybe not so aerodynamically stable, yet tons of fun. They also had an Airport set that included the Fun Jet. This is what led you to the Big Jim Sky Commander and the Barbie Friend Ship.

Play Family Ferris Wheel. This one had an actual music box thing that you cranked up. My only real concern here is that the operator guy looks kind of sketchy. Typical carny, I guess.

Play Family Castle. Now this one you’re going to have to just stop and stare at. Yes, I feel you. I mean, it had a bunch of rooms and a drawbridge and a dragon. Just lose yourself in it, friend.

Play Family Farm Tractor and Cart. Yes, this one isn’t as sexy as other sets, but it’s one that I had and the simplicity of it is comforting. Plus, love those big, fat wheels on the tractor.

Play Family School. The kids next door had the School, and I always thought it was very interesting that it was both a playset for the figures, but also a role-playing toy for kids with the magnetic letters and the actual chalkboard.

Play Family Garage. Here we go — instant iconic. I had it, Dan had it, many of you had it. I was never big on action features with my toys, but I ran cars up and down that elevator over and over again. Man, did I love this toy.

Play Family “A” Frame. A very cool variation on the typical House. I didn’t know anyone who actually had it, but I remember seeing it in catalogs and it always caught my eye. Now, what the heck is the dog doing up on that ladder? Fido, get down!

Play Family Dump Truckers. This one’s sort of a variation on the Garage, but it has something to do with matching colors and shapes or whatever. It looks very cool, though. Did you have it?

Play Family Farm. I think the extra animals might be the real draw here — but the barn door that “moos”? I mean, c’mon; that’s some mind-blowing stuff right there for a little kid to process.

Play Family Village. I had to end this column here, because after this, everything is just small. The Village was a beast, a monstrous playset that was the center of the Play Family Universe. The kids next door to me had this one and I was fixated on it. It had all those cars! And little letters to put through the slot at the Post Office! And the dog is on the roof. Of course he is. The dog is on the roof…


— The Complete TOYHEM! Index of Features and Columns. Click here.

— The TOP 13 Coolest BIG JIM Items Ever – RANKED, by JIM BEARD. Click here.

JIM BEARD has pounded out adventure fiction since he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. He’s gone on to write official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comics stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. His prose work includes his own creations, but also licensed properties such as Planet of the Apes, X-Files, Spider-Man, Kolchak the Night Stalker and Captain Action. In addition, Jim provided regular content for Marvel.com, the official Marvel Comics website, for 17 years.

Check out his latest releases: Rising Sun Reruns, about classic Japanese shows on American TV; a Green Hornet novella How Sweet the Sting; his first epic fantasy novel The Nine Nations Book One: The Sliding World; and the most recent Batman ’66 books of essays he’s edited: Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season OneBiff! Bam! Ee-Yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Two and Oooff! Boff! Splatt! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Three.

He’s also published novels about a character very much like G.I. Joe (and Big Jim and Action Jackson): DC Jones – Adventure Command International.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Wonderful stuff Jim. My older sister had the Fisher Price Little People school house, and so I got to play with it when I came along. I think we had a houseboat too?

    20 years ago, my wife spotted a FP castle (the very one pictured here) thrown out in the trash on the curb near my Dad’s house. She scooped it up, gave it a deep clean, and both our kids had hours and hours of fun with it…even though there were no figures included! They just subbed whatever figures they felt like, from modern Little People to Burger King Universal Monsters

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  2. I am all but certain that garage and airplane are still in my parents’ basement.

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    • My little sister and I had the house and the garage. I DO remember that doorbell, as well as the way the garage door felt as you slid it up and down! I used to have the kids and dog play hide and seek, and someone was allways hidden in the closet under the staircase! Lol! FP WAS a gateway drug! This led to the Mego Batcave and ST Enterprise for me!

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  3. I had SO many of these and long ago forgot all about them–with the exception of the barn with the door that moo-ed when you opened it. That’s probably engrained in my DNA. Thanks once again for the awesome memories. 🙂

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    • You are exceedingly welcome! It was my extreme pleasure to put this together!

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  4. I had quite a few of these growing up… I was just the right age that my mom could find them at yard sales for almost nothing. I guess when kids outgrow these, they REALLY outgrow them

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  5. Can’t believe I just stumbled across this article as I am sitting here going thru 3 huge plastic containers full of fisher price play sets that I had for my now grown kids and grandkids! Getting ready for a yard sale at which I will probably cry! You cannot find toys like this anymore! Thank you for your article. It brought back precious memories!

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